Member of ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union. Credit: Solidarity Center/Christopher Johnson
Hundreds of miners, forklift drivers and other workers at ArcelorMittal in Libera recently regained the jobs they lost following the 2014 Ebola epidemic and won back important benefits as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.
The ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union and the company late last month entered into the two-year agreement, which continues a joint health and safety committee and opened the door to higher wages through, “comprehensive job mapping to adjust salaries where they are inconsistent with the positions,” according to the union.
The United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) helped negotiate the agreement, and signed on behalf of the ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union. The workers’ chief negotiator and team members on this agreement had all participated in Solidarity Center training programs and consultations with Solidarity Center staff before negotiations began.
David Sakoh, UWUL secretary general, described the agreement as “an incredible achievement” given that it was completed during a “time of crisis,” which he said included the Ebola epidemic and falling commodities prices. ArcelorMittal last year reported a loss of nearly $8 billion due to falling steel prices and write-offs in its mining business.
The United Steelworkers (USW), Solidarity Center’s U.S. union partner in Liberia programs, thanked workers and management for their efforts to ensure through the new agreement that “the interests of workers will be represented and respected.”
The workers’ first agreement with ArcelorMittal Liberia was negotiated in 2012, making the company the second major investor in Liberia to sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). It came four years after a groundbreaking CBA between Firestone Natural Rubber Liberia and the Firestone Agricultural Workers.
Workers in Liberia have forged a decades-long partnership with the Solidarity Center and their counterparts in the United States, during which they received skills-development trainings to hone workers’ organizing and bargaining techniques, as well as support for their efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic, prevent child labor, improve Liberian labor law, address the growth of insecure informal economy jobs and seek gender equality within their unions.
Said El Hairech, general secretary of the National Union of Port Workers, jailed for union activity in 2012 is now celebrating a new bargaining pact. Credit: ITF
Dock workers in Tangiers, Morocco, successfully negotiated a collective bargaining agreement yesterday after a two-year struggle for worker rights that involved the wrongful arrest of union leaders for union activity and an international campaign to free the two men.
Significantly, the new pact with the global port operator APM Terminals includes respect for trade union rights along with a commitment to social dialogue, according to Said El Hairech, general secretary of the National Union of Port Workers (Union des Syndicats des Transports), an affiliate of the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) and of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The agreement with APM, a global network that employs 20,300 employees in 67 countries with interests in 70 port and terminal facilities, also improves working conditions and paid time-off for trade union representatives.
“This CBA embodies what we want—dynamic economic and social objectives,” said El Hairech, who also is chairman of ITF’s Arab World Regional Conference.
In 2012, El Hairech and Mohamed Chamchati, general secretary of UMT’s Merchant Seafarers’ Union, were arrested and imprisoned before eventually being released in October and November after the ITF launched a global solidarity campaign in support of the two men. The Solidarity Center worked to raise awareness about the campaign along with the UMT, a longtime ally.
The cargo port of Tangier-Med is a flagship development project for Morocco that has attracted significant international investment, and El Hairech says the agreement makes it clear that “union and management are working towards a common goal here: ambitious economic expansion in the framework of a common perspective on social responsibility.”
Camposol employees at a company assembly. Credit: Solidarity Center
Eighteen agricultural workers in Peru were detained during a work stoppage as they protested an agro-industrial company’s failure to uphold its collective bargaining agreement, according to the Camposol Workers’ Union (SITECASA). One union leader, Carmen Silvestre Rodríguez, was beaten by the national police, and the union’s general secretary, Felipé Arteaga, has been arrested, the union said.
SITECASA members began a peaceful work stoppage March 12 at the company’s facilities in Chao, a town in the country’s northern region. They are seeking the company’s compliance with several provisions in the region–wide collective bargaining agreement reached in July 2013, including resolution of daily production quotas for field workers, payment of annual profit sharing and provision of proper uniforms, footwear and meals for workers.
Field workers, who harvest avocados, mandarin oranges, mangoes and blueberries for export, currently must harvest 60 pallets before they receive their minimum daily wage of $11. According to the union, Camposol has conditioned its willingness to negotiate these points on the union’s retraction of an article in the collective bargaining agreement that provides employment stability (an indefinite contract) for workers with four years working for the company.
Camposol S.A. is Peru’s largest producer and exporter of non-traditional horticultural products like asparagus. Approximately 14,000 workers labor on Camposol’s vast plantations throughout the country. In 2012, the U.S. Department of State’s Human Rights Report cited Camposol for interfering with workers’ right to strike after the company failed to reinstate 250 workers dismissed for participating in a strike during collective bargaining.
Read the union’s full statement (Spanish).
Textile workers at a meeting in Arequipa, where union leader López was fired after a successful contract campaign. Credit: Milko Sotomayor
José López Mota, former leader of a textile workers’ union local in Peru and current general secretary of the regional textile federation FERRETEX, was fired on February 10, 2014. He was dismissed after the union achieved a collective bargaining agreement in late 2013 for allegedly missing more than 15 days of work without permission. However, López was conducting union business during those days, using legally mandated union leave.
López led a highly visible campaign at the garment and yarn manufacturing factory where he worked, calling for management to negotiate a fair collective bargaining agreement. The union’s peaceful work stoppages that followed more than six months of labor-management negotiations were ultimately successful in gaining workers a collective bargaining agreement.
“They want a leader who does not speak up. I fought for union rights and alongside my brothers and sisters, we achieved two significant improvements in the two years that I was in charge,” López told Peruvian newspaper La República.
Last month, the union held elections in which López was replaced as general secretary. Although he continues to serve as the general secretary of the regional textile federation, he no longer is protected by “union immunity” (fuero sindical) extended to workplace union leaders.
The factory management says López took days off without permission. During that time, López used his protected right to take union leave to help conduct contract negotiations and attend labor conciliation meetings with company participation at the Arequipa regional labor directorate. But because he did not always ask for days off in writing, he has no paper trail to prove he was absent for legitimate union work.
“These methods (of repression) that were common practice in the past no longer generate the effect desired by employers who continue in this retrograde mentality,” said Geronimo López, Arequipa Region secretary-general of the Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú (CGTP). The CGTP is one of Peru’s four main union federations. “On the contrary, to confront these anti-union actions, workers understand that they need to strengthen their unity and act with even greater commitment to defend their rights.”
Peruvian labor federations and international organizations are concerned about this violation of International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98 (freedom of association and freedom to form a union and collectively bargain), and the intimidation tactics used to silence a labor rights defender in Arequipa’s booming textile and apparel sector.